Page 1


G N I H C T A R C S N O Z I R the H O e f i L g n fi r u S A n’s Pre i t r a M . t S rk

ss

N e w Yo

038-50570_ch00_4P.indd iii

6/28/12 12:20 PM


scratching the horizon. Copyright © 2012 by Israel Paskowitz. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. www.stmartins.com Design by Kathryn Parise ISBN 978-1-250- 00600- 4 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-250- 02399-5 (e-book) First Edition: August 2012 10

038-50570_ch00_4P.indd iv

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

6/28/12 12:21 PM


There is a wisdom in the wave, highborn and beautiful, for those who would but paddle out. 8 —Hawaiian proverb, pinched from the author’s father, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, who’s been passing it off as his own for just about forever

038-50570_ch00_4P.indd ix

6/28/12 12:21 PM


038-50570_ch00_4P.indd xii

6/28/12 12:21 PM


P RO L O G U E A Good Day

J

une 29, 2011.

Wasn’t really thinking of this day as anything different, anything other than all the rest. Wasn’t really thinking much at all, except to do what I had to do, get where I was going. Feed the horses. Load a bunch of boards and wet suits in the truck. Hug my kids. Grab a change of clothes for later. Get to work. Just another stretch of daylight on a long string of many. The focus, heading out, was the Surfers Healing event I was running with my wife, Danielle, together with a couple dozen bighearted surfer pals and assorted friends and family members. Surfers Healing is a foundation Danielle and I started in 1999 after we discovered our autistic son, Isaiah, did a whole lot better in the water than on dry land. Seemed like it was our own little discovery at first, just a way to calm our own kid; Isaiah was small enough I could grab him by the scruff of his life vest and get him up on a board, and for a few moments he was like any other kid on the

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 1

6/28/12 12:20 PM


2

Scra tching the Horizon

beach. Riding waves. Laughing. Folks took notice, and soon they were asking me to help their kids catch some of the same, so what started as something for us became something for everybody; families with kids on the autism spectrum, covering the whole range of pervasive developmental disorders, filled the beach, and I was stoked to help out. These days, Isaiah is six-three, three hundred pounds, and way too big for me to get up on a board, but he still loves the water. We’ve found some giant bully boards, made for big ol’ Hawaiians like Isaiah, and he lolls about on one of them for hours at a time, bear-hugging the shoreline. These days, too, Surfers Healing is way too big for Danielle and me to handle on our own. We’ve grown into a full-fledged non-profit, with free one-day camps for autistic children, which we run up and down both coasts, as well as in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Mexico—and, next year for the first time, in Canada. In a typical year, we’ll surf with over twenty-five hundred kids. We’re not so full of ourselves to think we’re delivering any kind of cure-all or washing away a lifetime of hassle and heartache, but we are giving families a bright spot on their calendars, something to look forward to. Even better, something to remember. For an afternoon, at least, these kids are able to run and laugh and splash and shout on a whole other spectrum, and I’ve come to think of this as a great good thing. Yep, it’s pretty cool. Don’t mind saying. The drill, whenever we run one of these camps, is to bring together all these moving parts and make it seem like we’re a welloiled machine—when, really, the only things well oiled are our faces, to keep clear of the sun. Oh, we have our shit together, at this point; been at it so long we can’t help but have it down. But sometimes it feels like it all comes together on its own. Chasing permits, from all the different town beaches. Reaching out to our sponsors, who turn up with food and drink and giveaway items for our campers. Signing up all these families and getting their paperwork in order. Coordi-

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 2

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Prologue: A Good Day

3

nating the itineraries of the world-class surfers, who carve out time in their busy schedules to fly in from Hawaii or Cabo or wherever the hell they’re doing their world-class surfing to help out. Making sure we have enough boards and vests and wet suits. On this day, we’re running the event at Doheny State Beach, in Dana Point, California. Been surfing this beach as far back as I can remember. Place gets a bad rap, if you ask me. Way back when, it rated a mention in that Beach Boys song “Surfin’ USA,” but that was a long time ago. It’s since been called one of the most polluted beaches on the West Coast, and for a time it was just that. A lot of hard-core surfers I know won’t come anywhere near this beach, although on some days it still draws a crowd. On some days the wave breaks just right and the beach is fine and clean and you get why the place was once a big deal. It’s not the easiest spot for us to do our thing, though. The park rangers have us on a tight head count. Most times, we run one of these events, we get a hundred and twenty kids in the water, maybe more, but these guys at Doheny have us capped at eighty. Means we’ve had to turn away a lot of good people. Means we can’t have more than eight boards in the water at any one time. Sucks, but what can you do? Rules are rules . . . it’s just that, here, there are a few too many of them. The good thing about Doheny is it’s in our own backyard, closest thing we’ve got to home sand. Gives the event a hometown spin. We run these things up and down the California coast—Malibu, Pacific Beach, Tourmaline—but this one’s local, personal. Folks here, they know us. And we know them. And this, too, is a great good thing. Okay, so that’s the backdrop when I hop into Danielle’s white Ford pickup for the seven-mile zigzag down the mountain from our ranch to civilization. Feels to me like I’m running late, but I’m making good time. Pull into the old part of San Juan Capistrano, right behind the legendary Swallows Inn. Check my watch and see I’ve got a couple minutes, so I duck into Starbucks for a cup of chai

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 3

6/28/12 12:20 PM


4

Scra tching the Horizon

tea. Call ahead to a couple of my volunteer surfers, to see if they want something. Bullshit with some of the locals. Finally pull in to the beach at Dana Point and start unloading. It’s just after nine in the morning; event doesn’t start until eleven. And I’m not even the first one here. Far from it. Jennifer Tracy, our volunteer-in-chief, has been at it a good long while, along with a fistful of folks to help out. They’ve already unloaded a mess of gear, pitched our few sun tents, got our registration desk all set up. Jennifer’s on top of it, so I don’t have to be. From here, the day goes like it’s supposed to. Perfect weather. Perfect surf. Perfect vibe. This part’s easy, I tell myself. This part’s why we bother. To hang with these families, these special kids, to give them something they can’t grab at themselves. It’s like a blessing. Danielle arrives with our own kids, just before we hit the water. Actually, she arrives with Isaiah and our younger son, Eli, fifteen going on Level 93 of whatever video game he’s been playing. Our oldest, Elah, arrives separately, in her own car. She lives on her own these days, does her own thing, but Surfers Healing is a full-on family affair, so whenever she can, wherever she is, she drops whatever she’s doing to help out. Next, my in-laws check in, along with old friends and new. Everywhere I look, there’s a familiar face and a helping hand. I move along the beach between hugs and fist pumps and back claps, and I can’t go two feet in any one direction without finding a happy, grateful, nostalgic distraction. I end up making all kinds of small talk with folks I can’t quite place. Families we surfed with last summer, or the summer before that. Pose for a ton of pictures. Wonder at the wonder of what we’re doing. I’m anxious to get in the water, so I paddle out with my first kid of the day and look to lose myself in the moment. Soon, as we get out past the break, I think to chill. Already the heat and haste of the morning seem to want to drag me down, distract me from why we’re here in the first place, so I straddle my board and clear my

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 4

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Prologue: A Good Day

5

head. Out here in the water, on the outside, time doesn’t mean all that much. When you’re competing, you’re watching the clock, trying to grab as many waves as you can in the allotted time, but when you’re just surfing you’re just surfing. There’s no rush. You’re alone with your own thoughts and a bunch of other surfers alone with their own thoughts. You’re all alone together. You’re thinking and not thinking, waiting and not waiting. It’s like a deep breath. I can hang here with this sweet-faced kid, who seems to be about eight or nine. Doesn’t talk much, but he’s smiling. A bit anxious, but happy. A lot of times, you paddle out with one of these special kids, they’re all coiled up and ner vous. You’re taking them way away from their comfort zone, and you can see it in their bodies. Some of them, they tense up or shut down. Some of them, they start to cry. But this kid is cool, like he’s just waiting for something to happen. Something big. I ask his name. He tells me. I ask if he likes school. He tells me. I ask if he thinks he can spot his mom on the beach, from all the way out here, and he gives it a long, hard look but comes back blank. He really, really tries but can’t even guess. Finally, I ask him if he’s ready to catch a wave and head on in and he nods that he is, but it’s like a part of him isn’t. It’s not because he’s scared or tentative. It’s more like he wants to stay lost in this deep breath moment, this pocket of calm, same as me, because he knows once he gets back to the beach his world will switch back on and he’ll be back to how he’s always been. He’ll find his mom and she’ll be on him like she always is, like she has to be, collecting him in a giant towel-hug. Out here he’s just like any other kid on the planet, chasing thrills, waiting for something he can’t yet know, but back on the beach he’ll be special, different. But then I catch myself and realize, Hey, this is just me, projecting, and as I do I see a good-size wave rolling in over my shoulder. Wave feels like it’s shaping up just right. Not too big, not to small . . . just

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 5

6/28/12 12:20 PM


6

Scra tching the Horizon

right. Feels like one we should take, so we do, and then I repeat the scene a couple times more, with a couple more kids. When I’m on the beach, there’s so much warmth and good feeling I don’t want to get back in the water, but when I’m out past the break, waiting on the just right wave, chilling with one kid after another, there’s such a sweet point of pause I don’t want to head back in. Being out here with these kids, surfing, it’s a way to keep their world from spinning. Mine, too. “Extreme special ed” . . . that’s the phrase I use when I tell folks what we’re up to with Surfers Healing. Whatever we call it, it’s not for the faint of heart—it can get pretty hairy out in the water, so it takes a certain kind of kid to throw in on this kind of adventure. A certain kind of parent, too. The day unravels like this to where I lose all sense of time. Don’t even stop to eat. There are food and energy drinks, donated by some great local sponsors, but it doesn’t occur to me to refuel. My dad has come by, like he always does when he’s feeling up to it, but I don’t have time to hang with him. Not the way I’d like. Not the way we used to. He’s ninety years old, and for the past couple years I’ve been catching myself thinking we can probably count the days in the sun we have left together, so I count this one and file it away while he’s off doing his thing. Holding court. Spinning stories. Receiving the warm hellos and glad tidings of the surf set like he’s the mayor of the beach, like he has them coming. And he is, he surely is; he does, he surely does. At some point, I notice that the crowd on the beach has thinned, that the line of kids waiting their turn has disappeared. The sun, I see, is no longer so damn high. I can’t think where the hours have gone, where all these families have gone. We’ve been so damn knee-deep in doing our thing we don’t even look up until the thing is done. It’s not until we’re cleaning up the beach, hauling our gear back to our trucks and vans, bagging our recyclables, checking the cell phone I’d left in

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 6

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Prologue: A Good Day

7

the glove box for messages, that I remember the change of clothes for later. Oh yeah, I think. That. There’s some place I need to be, I’m reminded—downtown San Clemente, for an event honoring a bunch of local surfing legends, past and present. One of those Chamber of Commerce–type deals, to stir up interest in our community, maybe put San Clemente on the map as a happening, legendary surf spot. This, too, is a great good thing—a necessary thing, even, far as our sagging-flagging local economy goes. Since the late 1960s, San Clemente has been known as the home of Richard Nixon’s Western White House, but folks who live here know it as a vibrant, Spanishflavored village with fantastic ocean and mountain views and a rich surfing history. Makes sense to call attention to it, maybe drag some tourists down to see what we’re all about. It just so happens my family is among the group of honorees, together with a mess of good people with giant surfing pedigrees, although it’s not really clear if the honor is mostly for my dad, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, or for the whole lot of us. Either way, we’re grouped with local legends like Dale Velzy, one of my first heroes, a visionary guy who did more to change the shape and vibe of surfboard design than anyone else in the history of our sport; Tubesteak Tracy, the original “Big Kahuna,” who was like an uncle to me and my siblings as we grew up on the beach at San Onofre; Corky Carroll, a true surfing pioneer, considered by many to be the sport’s first “professional,” winner of more than one hundred big-time competitions; and on and on. Somewhere in there the organizers thought to find room for us Paskowitzes, who came to be known around these parts over forty years ago when my father decided to pack it in on a life of convention and routine and pile all of us kids into a twenty-four-foot camper. We’d live out the American dream—his version of it, anyway. We’d come and go as we pleased, unbound by convention. No work. No school. Just an endless, open stretch of days, set against an

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 7

6/28/12 12:20 PM


8

Scra tching the Horizon

endless, open stretch of shoreline. There were nine of us before long, and we all surfed, some of us professionally. All of us passionately, purposefully. My parents surfed, too. My father still surfs, when the water’s warm enough and the waves don’t threaten his old bones. We spent most of my childhood hopscotching from beach to beach, down into Mexico, along the Gulf coast, and up the Atlantic, with a couple side trips to Israel because it seemed to my quirky, Zionist father that this was something we should do. We never quite knew where we were going, where we’d just been, where our next meal was coming from, or even where we’d park the camper for the night, but at the end of the day—at the end of every day!—we were at home with each other, on some beach or other. Between waves and side trips and assorted misadventures, we collected this vast network of great surfing friends. Somehow, our vagabonding, bohemian, fucked-up lifestyle tapped into some of the same currents that moved the workaday worlds of these other kindred spirits, who for the most part had real jobs, real homes, real responsibilities away from the water. And somehow, too, we kept coming back to these beaches in and around San Clemente, where most of us have now settled and continue to surf, so it feels a little bit validating, a little bit thrilling, to be included among this group of surfing honorees. Folks here, they know us. And we know them. Same deal as before. Here’s the thing you need to know about “local surfing legends”: we tend not to think of ourselves as local surfing legends. Hell, we’re no more legendary than the scratches on our boards, the scrapes and bruises we wear like badges, the stories we tell over beers. But some of us have made a kind of mark on the sport, on surf culture, and around here I guess that gets us our picture on a big old street banner on what they’re calling Surfer’s Row, in downtown San Clemente.

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 8

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Prologue: A Good Day

9

Shit, us Paskowitzes pretty much perfected the live-on-thebeach, surf-all-day, party-all-night way of life that came to symbolize the California surfing scene in the sixties and seventies. We owned it, lived it. All these years later, we’re still going at it in a lot of the same ways, so we’re proud to be included among this group. Humbled, too. And, in some ways, a little self-conscious, because whenever these Chamber of Commerce types line you up and get you to pose for pictures it usually means you’ve been at it a toolong while. Back of my mind, all day long, I’ve been planning to go to the OC Tavern for the festivities. It comes up, with folks on the beach, in a hey, will I see you later? sort of way. Danielle has been planning to join me, too. It’s kind of a big deal, and we want to be there. (Hell, yeah, we want to be there!) But then, as the day runs away from us, the back of my mind gets cluttered up with a whole mess of other stuff, and I put the ceremony out of my head. With all this other shit going on, there’s just no room for it. Danielle, too, gets caught up with the boys back at the ranch, and it starts to look to her like she won’t be able to drive back down our big-ass hill to make it to town. Isaiah is a little fried and frazzled, from hanging all day on the beach at Doheny; Danielle doesn’t think he’s up for another outing, and Eli’s made plans with some of his buddies, and I catch myself thinking I’m a little fried and frazzled myself, and that a night at home with Danielle and Isaiah is sounding pretty good right now. Finally, as I’m fitting the last of the boards back onto the bed of Danielle’s pickup, I notice a text message reminding me to pick up my father at his apartment and drive him to the OC Tavern. A part of me thinks how cool it is, that we walk around with these handheld devices that remind us of shit we don’t even remember knowing in the first place. I set the phone on the dashboard and guess this means I’m going, after all.

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 9

6/28/12 12:20 PM


10

Scra tching the Horizon

Don’t have time for the change of clothes, though, so I slip out of  my wet suit and throw on a pair of shorts and a clean-enoughlooking Maui Jim T-shirt and point the truck towards my parent’s apartment. The event is called for five o’clock, and already it’s a quarter past, but we’ll get there when we get there. Dad is dressed for the occasion. Doesn’t quite dress to the nines, my old man, but he hits those sixes and sevens. He’s wearing a loose-fitting corduroy blazer, some throwback shade of green, over a button-down surf shirt and a pair of jeans. Next to me, he looks like he’s in formal attire, but it doesn’t much matter what we’re wearing, not with this crowd. Only matters that we’re here, and soon as we arrive it’s like the tide rolls out to clear a path for us. Of course, I realize the welcome is mostly for my old man, but I’m happy to follow in his wake. Been that way my whole life, just about, and by now I’m happy to soak up some of the smiles I know are meant for him. My siblings are the same way, for the most part. We’ve reached a place where we can celebrate the lives our parents built for us, the opportunities that stretch before us, the legacy we’re still finding ways to inhabit. Place is packed with smiling, familiar faces, just like the beach was packed earlier this morning, only here my dad stands at the center of attention. Something about the unconventional, romantic, vagabonding, bohemian, fucked-up lifestyle he’s embraced, the laidback California surfer ethos he helped to create . . . guess it embodies what this event is all about. What surf culture is all about. He’s like the surf whisperer, a spirit guide with stories to tell, stories these good people seem to want to hear, and he moves about the room like he owns the place. And he does; in his own way, he does. There he is, huddled with his old pal Mary Lou Drummy, another local legend, one of California’s first female surfers, going all the way back to the pre-Gidget days. And there he is with Fran Velzy, Dale’s widow, and Paul Strauch, Jr., one of the sport’s first genius

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 10

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Prologue: A Good Day

11

artists who used to ride with the Duke Kahanamoku Surf Team. And there, finally, he’s huddled with his great friend Tubesteak, their backs to the wall, soaking in the scene, reaching past the years for some shared memory or other. I stand at the bar, sucking back Guinness drafts, collecting congratulations and reminiscences from people I’ve known my whole life, surfed with my whole life, made trouble with my whole life. I think, Well, Izzy, this doesn’t suck. And, really, it doesn’t. To see your life unfurl in front of good people you care about, to celebrate each other, to be celebrated in return . . . yep, it’s pretty damn cool. Still don’t mind saying. At some point, our friend Steve Pezman takes the stage and sets the scene. Steve is probably the most influential surf journalist on the planet. He used to be the editor and publisher of Surfer magazine. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And he’s got a little something to say about each of the twenty-one Surfer’s Row honorees. A personal memory. A bit of context or history. Something. I start to listen to what Steve is saying about all these great surfers, about the contributions they’ve made to our sport, our culture, our lifestyle. The contributions they’re making still. And for a couple beats I forget all about my family and our place in the mix. I forget how brave and crazy it must have been for my father, and my mother alongside him, to drop off the grid the way they did and raise a bunch of surf rats in a crappy, run-down camper. As Steve talks, I slip into a sweet, dull fog—kind of like that deep breath that finds me when I’m out past the break, waiting on a wave. Time doesn’t matter. Work doesn’t matter. Everything is just put on a kind of temporary hold, and a minute feels like an hour, and an hour feels like a minute, and you step outside yourself, a little bit. It’s quiet, but not really. I’m listening to Steve, and I’m not listening to Steve. I’m waiting to hear what he’s got to say about us and the way we’ve lived, the way we staked out our own territory on the surfing scene,

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 11

6/28/12 12:20 PM


12

Scra tching the Horizon

and I’m not waiting to hear. And next thing I know he’s shot right past us, and he’s finishing up his remarks about the event, the moment, whatever. Underneath whatever nice things Steve Pezman has to say about us, whatever ribbon he’s tied around this sweet, fine moment, I catch myself thinking, It’s been a good day. Thinking, It’s been a good life, an interesting life. And, Where do I sign on for more of the same? Yeah, it’s been a rich, wild ride, and here, surrounded by these good people, my dad, my daughter, Elah, and a bunch of her friends, my brother Abraham and his family . . . it feels like it’s meant something. Like it continues to mean something. So what do I do with this sweet, fine revelation? Well, I take it in . . . in what ways I can. I down another couple pints of Guinness. Talk shit for a while longer with some of my pals, pose for a couple more pictures. Hang with Elah for a bit, enjoying the way my baby girl moves about in the life she’s managed to make for herself, alongside the life I’ve managed to make for myself, alongside the life my father had wanted for all of us. Finally, I check my watch and decide it’s time to head back up the hill and make for home. On the way, I stop to pick up some takeout schnitzel at this new German place, Barth’s, just opened up on Ortega Highway, figuring Danielle and I can eat a little something when I get home. Been meaning to check the place out, and this seems as good a time as any, so I park the truck in front of the restaurant’s big storefront window and bounce inside, where I’m met by an attractive young waitress, looks to be about my daughter’s age. She motions towards a table for me to sit down, but I tell her I only want takeout. She goes to get me a menu, and when she returns with it she points through the storefront window. “You are a surfer?” she asks, in a thick German accent. I follow her gaze and see she is looking at my truck, with the

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 12

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Prologue: A Good Day

13

eight or nine boards fitted onto the bed. “I am a surfer,” I say back, and we fall into talking. She brings me a beer, to fill the waiting. Soon, she asks about the tattoos that spill from my T-shirt and run all along my left arm. She’s never seen anything like them, she says. She shows me hers—a simple star, on her belly. Unadorned. Me, I’m adorned as hell. The German waitress, she is curious as hell. She says, “The design, it is almost tribal, yes?” I say, “Some of it. And some is just a tribute to my family, to my children.” And then I tell her about the markings on my arm. The names of my kids. A portrait of Danielle from when we fi rst met. The Surfers Healing logo. The tribal designs on my fingers—native shark teeth, pointing away from my body, which is meant to indicate energy and the spirit of aloha flowing out into the world. I tell her how in Hawaii a tattoo tells a story, how the symbols you wear are meant to announce who you are. I say, “This way, when you meet someone, it’s like they already know you.” The waitress disappears to collect my food and returns with the restaurant’s owner—also German, also struggling to fill the holes in his English. He looks to be in his thirties. The waitress is anxious to show her boss my tattoos, to introduce him to her new customer. “It is very beautiful,” the owner says, after looking at my arm. “Very interesting.” “It tells a story,” the waitress says. And then, turning to me: “Someday, you must come back and tell it to us.”

038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 13

6/28/12 12:20 PM


038-50570_ch01_4P.indd 14

6/28/12 12:20 PM


Scratching the Horizon - an Excerpt  

In 1956, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz stepped away from a successful medical practice and began a lifelong surfing odyssey that grew to include hi...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you